The Science of Hadith

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

That is why we find that after the time of the Sahaba and after the recording of the hadith, scholars of ‘Ilm al-Hadith began to develop the rules and methods for classifying and formulating hadith. And we find that many terms are used technically to describe the different types of hadith.

The Classifications of Ahadith

For example in ‘ilm al-hadith we find many classifications of hadith. One of them is ‘sahih,’ which is defined as “opposite of wrong.” The description of the meaning of the term ‘sahih’ takes at least one volume to explain. The term ‘hadith hasan’ needs another volume to explain its meaning. The next level of classification is hadith da’eef. Following that is hadith marfu’, then hadith musnad, then hadith muttassil, then hadith mawquf, then hadith maqtu’, then hadith munqati’, then hadith mu’adal, then hadith mursal, then hadith mu’alaq, then hadith musalsal, then hadith gharib, then hadith ‘aziz, then hadith mashhur, then hadith mutawwatir, then hadith mu’ana’an, then hadith mubham, then hadith mudallas, then hadith ash-shaaz, then hadith mahfouz, then hadith munkar, then‘hadith ma’ruf, then hadith ‘aliy wan-naazil, then hadith mudarraj, then hadith muddabaj, then hadith muttaffaq, then hadith muftarak, then hadith mu’talif, then hadith mukhtalif, then hadith maqloub, then hadith mudtarib, then hadith mu’allal, then hadith matruk, and then hadith mawdu’.So we find 35 precise classifications of hadith, that scholars use when they read hadith, according to which they classify them. This is how scholars knew whether a hadith could be accepted or not.

A logical question arises here, “where are these terms to be found literally in the Qur’an or Sunnah?” And what follows on logically from this is, from whence came the permission to create this science and to develop these classifications and terms, because this was not done by the Prophet (s)?

These classifications came into existence when the hadith scholars such as Imam Bukhari and others came and developed the principles (usul) of ‘ilm al-hadith, and their gradations, which did not exist in the time of the Prophet (s). In other words these classifications of hadith are not explicitly mentioned in Qur’an or Sunnah, or in the time of the Sahaba, but were defined later by scholars. In the time of the Prophet (s), and the Sahaba, the knowledge of the hadith and the Sunnah existed, as the Sahaba used to discuss the sayings and actions of the Prophet (s) and teach this knowledge. But it was not known as a science at that time. Then as the Sahaba began to pass away, and the Tabi’een were trying to find out what the Prophet (s) and his caliphs said and did, it became more and more necessary to formalize methods for recording and transmitting the sayings and anecdotes of the Prophet and the Sahaba. So as time passed, and the distance from the time of the Prophet (s) increased, it became necessary to add formal structure and verification methodology to the natural mechanism of transmission, which always incorporated the sanad, the verifiable chain of transmission of a given piece of information about the Prophet (s) or his Sahaba. And as many, many non-Arab speakers were entering Islam and were memorizing hadith, it became necessary to establish the Science of Men and the Science of Transmission which developed the 35 different categorizations of ahadith which didn’t exist in the time of the Prophet (s). So we find from the one word “hadith” which the Prophet (s) was urging his Sahaba to learn and promulgate, developed a vast science, with its own terms and methods, which did not exist in the time of the Prophet (s). In the time of the Prophet (s), the propagation and verification of hadith was natural and was not formalized. Now ‘Ilm al-Hadith is a Science by itself. Today many scholars specialize in that science, and they are called the “muhaddithun.” Similarly grammar and tashkil (diacritical marking) of Arabic was not formally established until after the time of the Prophet (s), when the need arose to keep the language of the Qur’an and hadith pure from changes and mispronunciation. Arabs today need must learn nahu and tashkil in order to preserve classical Arabic, whereas in the time of the Prophet (s), even a child, through its state of fitra (innocence), knew correct Arabic. Similarly, Tasawwuf, which has its roots in Qur’an and Sunnah, is a vast science which has been divided into many areas and classifications and has numerous technical terms used to describe its depths. So do you want us–when we see that Islam comprises such vast knowledge, each subject and science (‘ilmin min al ‘ulum) going into many classifications and terms–to define the term Tasawwuf in one short word, when the 35 classifications of hadith mentioned above were never been mentioned in the Qur’an or the Sunnah? Keep in mind that even the term “hadith” was not used in the time of the Prophet in the way it is used today by all Muslims. So we can say from what was mentioned above, that it is impossible to understand the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) without going to the Hadith of the Prophet (s). And it is impossible to obtain the hadith of the Prophet (s) without going to the scholars of the hadith, the first of whom was Imam Malik bin Anas (95 H.), Imam of fiqh and hadith in Hijaz, whose book of hadith al-Muwatta, took 40 years to prepare. Following him in time was Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (164-241 H.), who wrote al-Musnad, wherein he chose his authentic ahadith from the 750,000 ahadith which he had memorized. These scholars came before Bukhari and put forth the principles of the Science of Hadith (usul). Imam Bukhari was born in 194 and died in 256 H. His most famous book is al-Jami’ us-Sahih. Imam Muslim, who was born in 206 and died in 261 H., took fifteen years to write his book of hadith. He quoted 12,000 hadith from the 300,000 hadith he had memorized. Imam Abu Dawud was born in 202 and died in 275 H. He wrote his book As-Sunan known as Sunan Abi Dawud, in which he put 4800 hadith. Abu ‘Isa Tirmidhi was born in 209 and died in 279 H., and produced the work Jam’i at-Tirmidhi. An-Nasa’i was born in 225 and died in 303 H. and his book is Sunan an-Nasa’i. Ibn Majah was born in Qazwin and was very famous in writing hadith. So we find these eight Imams, including Ahmad and Malik, collected the hadith quite some time after the Prophet (s). So if it took Imam Malik 40 years to collect and write a book of hadith, how can one expect that someone will give a definition and explanation of a similarly large science, ‘Ilm at-Tasawwuf, in only a brief time and short space.

The problem with many students of Islam nowadays is that they want to understand Islam from a very shallow, ready-made and pre-digested perspective. The greatness of this religion is that it is vast, wide and deep and has not been confined by the narrowness of human intellect, as has occurred in all other religions.

I am asking our brothers and sisters to acknowledge what I am saying. Any true scholar must know and use these classifications of hadith. Therefore I would like to know where in the Qur’an and Sunnah these 35 classifications have been defined verbatim. This is one simple example. We can go on and on in a similar vein for each of the sciences (‘ulum) mentioned above. In fact the question arises here, “where are the names of the Sciences of Islam (‘ulum) defined by name in the Qur’an and Hadith?” In a hadith narrated in Bukhari and Muslim, Abdullah bin Mas’ud said, that the Prophet said, “the best century is my century and the one after it” and in some narrations “the first century and the second and the third.” And after the Sahaba were the Tab’Ieen and then the Tabi’ Tabi’een. All scholars of Islam said that the century of the Tabi’een was the end of 150 Hijri, and the 220 Hijri was the end of the century of the Tabi’ Tabi’een. And we find that Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik and Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbali were living in that period of time. Imam Abu Hanifa was born in 80 H. and Imam Malik 95 H., and Imam Shafi’i was born around 150 H. and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal was born in 160 H., so we see that all these great scholars came in the time which the Prophet described as “the best time,” in contrast to the scholars who came after them. And all of them were accepting the new terms which were given to the Sciences (‘ulum) which were developed after the time of the Prophet, such as ‘Ilm an-Nahu, ‘Ilm al-ajaz, ‘Ilm al-Kalam, ‘Ilm at-Tawhid, ‘Ilm al-‘Aqida, ‘Ilm al-Qur’an, ‘Ilm al-Fiqh, ‘Ilm al-Hadith, ‘Il as-Sirah, ‘Ilm as-Sarf, ‘Ilm al-Bayan, ‘Ilm at-Tafsir, ‘Ilm al-Tajweed, ‘Ilm at-Tarteel, ‘Ilm at-Tasawwuf, [‘Ilm ul-Ihsan,] and ‘Ilm ul-Mirath.